The Pox On The Sox Who needs success? The Red Sox' Biblical misfortunes are a unifying force

April 18, 2004

Like many citizens of the Commonwealth, I often wonder what would
happen if the Red Sox were to win a World Series. Images dance in
my head of celebrants, insane with elation, burning down the Back
Bay and reducing the Green Monster to ashes. Of a vengeful Babe
Ruth reappearing in the form of a giant marshmallow,
Ghostbusters-style, hurling hailstones and roasting himself in
the flames. Of George Steinbrenner looking back at Fenway Park
and turning into a pillar of salt. ¶ Old Testament stuff. The Red
Sox are a religion in these parts, and to cheer for them is to
enter a world of floods, parting seas and woes of Biblical
proportions. We've seen the plague brought on by Bucky Dent. The
famine caused by Bill Buckner.

The affliction visited by Grady Little's whacko decision to stick
with Pedro, five outs from the World Series.

In Massachusetts church and state are inseparable when it comes
to the Red Sox: Sisters pray for them; clerics sermonize about
them, segueing from the trials of Job; politicians bet (and lose)
lobster dinners because of them. MIT professors teach the physics
of Tim Wakefield's knuckler. News anchors talk tough about
bringing down the Yankees--in March. The Sox are the state's
common bond, its cross to bitterly bear. Victory may be sweet,
but epic collapse is unifying.

I came late to the party, having grown up near Chicago, where I
cut my baseball teeth watching the travails of the Cubs. Good
folks, Cubs fans. Been waiting patiently since 1908. Cheerful.
Faithful. Grateful for one pennant race a decade. Happy to sing
Take Me Out to the Ball Game and spend a pleasant afternoon in
the Friendly Confines, win or lose.

Not so in Fenway. Bostonians are with you, win or tie. They are
jaw-droppingly ardent, knowledgeable and tough. They'll boo a
lack of effort no matter how many runs you drive in. (Ask Manny
Ramirez.) I've lived in the Boston area for 22 years, and I still
marvel at the depth of their passion. Their desire to win has a
smell to it, like sweat. John Henry, one of the Red Sox' owners,
calls Boston's pursuit of a world championship "a real-life
Arthurian quest." Success, he knows, would bring immortality to
everyone involved.

The players feel the weight of expectations. It makes them edgy,
snappish. The icon, Ted Williams, refused to tip his cap to the
fans. Carl Yastrzemski wore a perpetual scowl. Jim Rice, Carlton
Fisk, Roger Clemens--all of them feuded with Boston
sportswriters. Nothing warm and fuzzy about those men. Not like
Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, adored in my childhood despite never
getting his team to a World Series. They'd have run him out of
town in Boston. Not enough grit.

The sports heroes of Massachusetts are as loaded with grit as the
roads around Concord in April. No pretty boys here. Rocky
Marciano, the Brockton Blockbuster, undefeated heavyweight champ,
would walk through three lefts to hit you with his right. Bill
Russell, the proud, glowering guardian of the paint, perennially
outplayed the magnificent Wilt Chamberlain. Bobby Orr, shy and
huge-hearted, both flashy and gritty, skated with such abandon
for the Bruins that his body was ruined by the time he was 29.
Larry Bird, both taciturn and blunt, insisted on the ball
whenever the game was on the line.

Hard men. Strong. Long on substance and short on style, like
frumpy old Massachusetts itself. And into this pantheon of
legends now walk the Patriots, a team that, under coach Bill
Belichick, perfectly reflects the state's sensibilities. Lean and
resilient. Smart and unselfish. Not dependent on superstars and
high-priced free agents. Forty years Pats fans waited, patient,
ardent, loyal. Now they've been rewarded with two Super Bowls in
three years.

Red Sox fans know that their faith will be rewarded too. It's why
every spring they gather, renewed and recharged. Despite
everything they've seen, everything their fathers and
grandfathers have told them, they know that the Curse of the
Bambino, in place since 1918, will end. Not some year, as Cubs
fans believe. This year. This will be the Red Sox' year.

E.M. Swift is a senior writer for SI.


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